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Alibis: To Believe or Not to Believe5

so and so is the person they saw at the scene of the crime.  Placing more weight on eyewitness testimony and no weight on alibis should also raise a red flag.  Let’s assume for a minute that man A is on trial for the assault of another man, man B, at a bar.  The prosecution presents an eyewitness who asserts that man A is the one who committed the assault.  The eyewitness is also a good friend of man B.  The defense presents an alibi defense stating that man A was at home during the night in question, and also has a neighbor to corroborate that he was at home at the time of the assault.   This puts the jury between a rock and a hard place.

After all of this, there seems to be no hope for alibis.  It seems that even if you were to be put on trial, it would be just as useful to not claim anything, to simply say nothing about your whereabouts on the night in question, because that would have the same impact as an alibi anyway.  Is that what the future holds for alibis?  Is there no hope at all for alibis?  I feel that there is at least a little bit of promise for alibis and that promise could lie in the attribution theory.   

The attribution theory was developed in 1958 by a man named Fritz Heider (Social Psychology, Aronson, Wilson, and Akert, 2005).  Heider stated that, when observing another’s behavior, we tend to make one of two attributions.  One of those options is to make an internal attribution, in which you attribute the behavior to the disposition of that person.  This tends to cast a negative light on the person.  The other of the two options is to make an external attribution, in which you attribute the person’s behavior to the situation. Social Psychology, Aronson et. al. 2005).  

A new area of alibis to spend some time researching would involve the attribution theory.  Could our daily attributions affect how we evaluate an alibi?  This idea was looked at a little more in depth by a couple of WSU students.  They used the general taxonomy from the Olson and Wells study and incorporated the character of the defendant and the content of the alibi.  One hundred and seventy-eight general psychology students from Winona State University participated in the study (Hanson and Zacharias, 2005).

Participants were asked to read a trial transcript.  In the transcript, the character of the defendant varied.  They were either described as “good”, being an active member of a church as the choral director or “bad”, being a member of Alcoholics Anonymous who had been court ordered to attend the meetings in the church.  The alibi varied three different ways.  The first alibi placed the defendant at an adult bookstore at the time of the crime and had the credit card transaction to prove this.  The second alibi placed the defendant at a normal bookstore like Barnes and Noble.  This condition also had a credit card receipt as proof.  The third alibi that was used was that the defendant was home alone watching a movie on television, and used the TV Guide as proof that he was where he had claimed to be.  After reading the transcript they were asked to fill out a survey/questionnaire to gauge their general opinions about the alibis and the characteristics of the defendants (Hanson and Zacharias, 2005).

The general hypothesis behind the study was that a person deemed as a person of good character with an alibi of being at an adult bookstore would be seen as more believable than a person of bad character with that same alibi.  The idea behind this being that a person with that sort of background, would be less likely to reveal something like that to other people, unless it was really important that he reveal that piece of information.  In other words, a church choir director should be believed when saying he was at an adult bookstore because this is a rather embarrassing piece of information for a church choir director to be revealing.  It is probably something he would rather be kept unkown, unless it is absolutely necessary that it be revealed.  

The results showed that the subjects who read the home alone watching a movie condition, found that defendant guilty more often than subjects who read the adult bookstore and the Barnes and Noble conditions; however, there was no significant effect on guilty by confidence between the adult bookstore and Barnes and Noble conditions.  For the measure of defendant’s embarrassment of his alibi, there were significant

WSU Psychology Student Journal, Issue ASarah Shurbert

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